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Archive for August, 2012

Adventures in Cooking

I’ve never been a good cook. I’ll go so far that I’m even working my way up to becoming a decent cook, but good? Not me. Realistically there are about a dozen or so non-crockpot meals that I can make reliably. I’ve come a long way from first grade where, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my reply was “chef.” 

Yup. I’m definitely shattering 6 year old me’s dreams.

That being said, I have been cooking more since I started P90X. The program has a nutrition guide and even a meal plan, but I opted to try to stick to the recommended ratios of protein, carbs, veggies, dairy, fruit, snacks, etc. The details would bore you, but suffice it to say, when it came to hitting my allotted proteins for the day, I was in trouble.

Enter breakfast.

Eggs and pork/turkey/meat have protein, as you might imagine. If I get up and cook myself an egg or two and have some bacon or ham or Scrapple then I head to work with 1/3 to 1/2 of my daily protein checked off my list. Lunch is often leftovers or a sammich, though my killer tuna salad (one of my 12 reliable meals) often comes with me too.

Dinner has become its own thing though. Maggie typically makes dinner, but I’ll usually make dinner about once a week. Maggie has been out of town in Colorado doing Figaro with Emerald City Opera and being awesome for the last 3 weeks, so I’m left to fend for myself. As you can imagine, I cycled through my usual meals pretty quickly.

And so I began to try new things. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I failed pretty spectacularly. What I feel is important is that I am trying. I made a fantastic chicken fried rice dinner once upon a time and I have yet to replicate that success (it always comes out soggy or slimy). Last week it was again slimy. I tried an omelette and turned it into a pile of scrambled eggs and grilled veggies with hot sauce on top. Recently, however, I have had two decent successes.

Yesterday I made this:

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Grilled Tilapia and Peas over rice

I grilled the tilapia with some dill, garlic salt, and lemon juice alongside sauteed onions, capers, and sundried tomatoes. It came out really good. Maggie and I have done fish a number of different ways, but I’m pretty proud of this one.

Today, however was a trial. I set out to make General Tso’s Chicken since it is one of my favorite Chinese dishes and I have gobs of chicken in the house at the moment. We had the orange sauce in the pantry already, so I needed to pick up a few things for the recipe. No sweat.

There are grilled versions of this dish, but I wanted to be more authentic to the dish, so I opted to fry it. I have almost no experience frying foods, so this was going to be fun. First thing’s first though, I needed to make a marinade for the chicken. Easy, right? One egg white, some soy sauce, a little cornstarch… What could go wrong?

I went through 5 eggs, made the mistake of trying to substitute cornmeal for cornstarch (eventually figured out you can sub flour for it), and stepped on the cat (I was preoccupied and he was underfoot. I apologized and pet his head after I washed off all the chicken-y bits. We’re cool again). Two other mistakes during this process: 1) broke the yolk on one egg when trying to get the white out, and 2) added my wet ingredients to my dry and got mush (yeah, I got a big “told you so” from Alton Brown on that one).

Then came the pans. I put my garlic and ridiculously hot dried red peppers from the Mexican aisle at ShopRite (note to self: hubris is often painful and hot peppers are advertised as hot because they are, in fact, hot) in a pan and promptly burned them up. Take 2, lowered the temp to aerate them and everything was fine. I heated the oil for the now sticky marinated chicken and put them in one by one. I expected the oil to pop. I’m not a complete novice and I have worked in fast food, so I know that heated cooking oil gets a little jumpy. Apparently I had either too much oil or too high heat, because this stuff went crazy. I put the little splash guard thingy on there (and used it as a shield for the rest of the frying) and turned the heat down and it calmed.

From there it was smooth sailing. Dry the chicken, add to the aerated veggies and sauce, mix, put on top of rice and broccoli, and enjoy.

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General Tso’s Chicken

And so, despite my setbacks and failures, I am eating actual food that doesn’t come from a box or a takeout menu. It’s healthier for me and it gets me my protein and veggies so I have enough energy to kick butt at P90X.

I’m looking for more ideas and recipes. Hit me up with links or recipes you enjoy that fall into the “novice to proficient” difficulty range. After all, the more I learn to cook, the less frequently I have to eat pasta and manwich and tuna salad (though, like I said, I make a killer tuna salad).

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When I thought about doing P90X a few months ago I wanted to write out the routines on a calendar so I could cross them off as I completed them. Basic behavior modification. I asked my wife to pick up a calendar for me and when she asked what I wanted on it I told her “whatever is fine.” And so I have an “Extraordinary Chickens” calendar upon which I track my progress.

It now has 7 X’s on it 🙂

I made it through the first week of P90X and did pretty well. I’m still getting used to eating differently. I generally eat lots of carbs and not enough protein in any given week. I’m good with veggies and fruit though (thanks to my wife). In order to really have enough energy to do this program I need more protein. I don’t do any of the supplements or drinks. For one, they’re expensive, and for two, I’m not trying to build myself up to be this awesome bodybuilder or anything. Yes, I know I’m missing out and my body is probably missing out, but I take my multivitamin and now a glucosamine supplement (recommended by a friend since I’m having knee trouble this week). My nutrition and vitamin intake are in the spirit of the program and for now that is good enough for me.

My biggest hurdles so far in the program are yoga and abs. Abs are just plain brutal. I’m doing 12-15 reps for each exercise (instead of the 25) and it’s all I can do for now. As for yoga, I’m just not all that flexible and I have a belly, which gets in the way and has more than once caused me to fall over. Plyo isn’t the monster I thought it was. I can mostly keep up and I try to push myself a bit more each time. I’m getting better at pull ups and, honestly, I’m doing mostly adjusted versions of many of the exercises at the moment to get some benefit and learn the routines. It does me no good to do 3/4 a pull up without a chair when I can do 5-10 with a chair (and I always try to do at least one without the chair each time). That’s my best right now and I’m not sad about it.

Kempo X is probably my new favorite thing. I enjoyed the punches and kicks when I did P90 back in the day and this is a high pace version of that. I’m still learning form, but I can keep up intensity, which is something I can’t do on any of the other programs.

In other news, Fantasy Football starts up soon. I’ve tinkered around a bit this weekend and plan to read up on the guys this year during the week. I’m hoping to find enough people (read: people I know) to start my own league this year. I’m sure I can cobble together 7-9 people to make it happen. Updates on that progress later.

I finish my internship in <1 month. After that I will be finishing my dissertation and hopefully finding a job. I’m applying to a lot of places this weekend and next week. I hate not having a plan and feeling like I have little control over what happens to Maggie and the cats and me for the next 3-4 months. All I know is that by the end of the year I will be graduated. There’s also a small chance that we’ll all be homeless. Now accepting donations.

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